A polyphobic reflection

Carolyn Moynihan
26 May 2015
Reproduced with Permission

Improbable? Preposterous? Alarmist? Perhaps. But by no means illogical.

The success of the same-sex marriage campaign in Ireland has advocates elsewhere in a state of high excitement, predicting that the rest of the (Western) world must quickly fall into line and legalise this concept. What then?

As we know, there is a long line of "love" interest groups waiting to stake their claims for social recognition, and at the head of the queue are polyamorists.

In fact, just before the Irish voted, The Independent (Ireland) ran a long feature story about the Emerald Isle's polyamory community. Jade-Martina Lynch , who has achieved a modest amount of fame by starring in Irish Big Brother, summed up the polyamory philosophy quite neatly: "My soul is just so free I can't be in a monogamous relationship."

It's hard to pin these people down, so the definition of polyamory given by a Californian group, Saturnia Regna , is probably as good as any other. They say:

The word POLYAMORY means "many loves," (or one love shared among many people). The word has been used by scholars and writers at least since the early 20th century to describe the choice of loving more than one person at the same time. This form of responsible non-monogamy is not about clandestine affairs or cheating on people you love. Polyamory is about making mutual agreements with people you love, keeping everything in the open and treating the people you love in an ethical, consensual and committed manner.

The key word in this description is "non-monogamy", or having a sexual relationship with more than one person. The rest of it any of us could subscribe to - Christians, after all, are commanded to love their neighbour, which means everyone. And who would not agree that we should "treat the people we love in an ethical, consensual and committed manner"?

So what exactly does "responsible non-monogamy" among polyamorists involve? Newspapers occasionally run feature articles about a bunch of rather intelligent, thoughtful people living their "open relationships" in some city neighbourhood, sharing supervision of the children's homework and things like that. It sounds quite discreet, mundane and harmless. But there's another side to polyamory and to look into that you really need a clothes peg for your nose.

The Saturnia Regna crowd, for example, are advertising a summer holiday programme "in a lovely clothing optional resort in Northern California" (where else?) . In this tantalising and distracting environment, the poly community can hone skills such as "clarification and expression of desires, jealousy management, expansion and deepening of intimacy and multi-partner relating."

The blurb entices people with the prospect of "interactive" exercises in a setting "conducive to sensual expression to a degree not possible in most ordinary settings". Rumours that people at these gatherings not only run about naked but "engage in affectionate interactions with multiple partners, and sometimes even make love in plain sight of other people" are only slightly exaggerated, it suggests. Puritanical polys are warned off.

At the same time it seeks to cast a patina of virtue over the proceedings:

"Social interaction in a clothing-optional setting requires people to be more respectful than in ordinary settings - not less. Polyamory and open relationships demand that people be more sensitive to the feelings and desires of the people they interact with - not less. Exploring polyamory tends to require a level of trust, honesty, emotional vulnerability, and a willingness to confront uncomfortable feelings than is required in more conventional relationship styles. Unless you are a person who is willing and able to behave in such a manner, this event is probably not something for you.

At one level this attempt to dress up an orgy as a sensitivity summer school is hilarious. At another it's a disturbing glimpse of the future of sexual relationships regulated only by the appearance of "love". Same-sex marriage is being instituted solely on that basis, although monogamy is assumed. But polyamorists tell us that their non-monogamous relationships are just another way of loving. Who are we to judge?

There is nothing, logically, to stop polyamory becoming the next, successful, "marriage equality" campaign.

Does it matter? Of course it does. If gay marriage institutionalises motherless families and fatherless families, non-monogamous marriage would institutionalise family instability. Divorce allows parents to part, and we know that many of those men and women form new relationships. But we also know that children are generally less happy as a result of these changes, and most reasonable people wish it were not so. If polyamory is ever legally recognised it would be the day that society tells children, "We don't care at all."